Florida Task Force Mulls Pricing College Tuition by Degree

Florida's public universities might be moving to an a la carte tuition structure if Governor Rick Scott adopts the recommendations offered by his higher education task force. StAugustine.com reports that after much debate, the Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education has rejected proposals to make increasing state funding for higher education a goal. They also rejected giving the University of Florida Board of Governors complete authority over how the budget is spent, but agreed to recommend that universities be allowed to charge higher fees for some degree programs and to allow more prestigious universities in the UF system to set their tuition higher.

Final recommendations aren't due until November 15th, but the task force has already announced the intention to finalize their preliminary findings and get them ready to present to both Scott and the Legislature soon.

Although the Board of Governors will not get the budgetary authority it has been seeking, it will have its power boosted in another way. The panel recommended that the Board be given a direct role in choosing and appointing the president for each university in the system. Previously, although they had the approval authority, they had no direct influence in the search process. The task force members called that situation "rubber stamping."

The Legislature now can raise base tuition rates while the board can approve additional increases for each school, but the total cannot exceed 15 percent in a given year.

Before setting up the task force, Scott vetoed a bill that would had allowed the top two research schools, the University of Florida and Florida State University, exceed that cap.

In his veto message, Scott asked for a more detailed plan to ensure students and taxpayers would get a return for the additional tuition expense.

The board will also have the authority to assign the "pre-eminent" label to a university, something that would allow the board to approve a tuition increase in excess of the base set by the Legislature. In assigning the designation, the board will look at metrics – some suggested by Scott – like graduation rates, the number of graduates in high-need degree programs and post-graduation employment rates and salaries.

The task force sees the ability to charge different tuition rates for different programs as a way for the state to encourage students to enter degree programs that have a "strategic importance" to Florida Economy.

The lump-sum budgeting proposal gave way to a recommendation for simply expanding the board's funding and/or budgetary control. The intent is let the board speak for the entire system when it comes to making budget requests to the Legislature to sidetrack lobbying by the universities for their pet projects.

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